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er of God, it is not by any forcible restraint, or constraint, contrary to their own dispositions. God doth not work in them to do, whether they will or not; but first he works in them to will: and when once they are made willing, they act with freedom. As far as any one acts his own choice, he is a free agent. Or, will it be said, an agent is not free, unless he could will contrary to what he wills, as well as do contrary to what he does, if he would? Will any one insist upon it, that the essence of freedom, is to be able at any time, to will right, or to will wrong to choose to do evil, or to choose to do well? But let us see to what this will lead. If this be essential to freedom, certainly God himself is not free. He can do whatever seemeth good in his sightwhatever he will: but he cannot will contrary to his will-contrary to his nature-contrary to his moral perfections. He cannot do, because he cannot will, any thing but what is wise, just, and good. Were not this the case, his infinite wisdom, justice and goodness, would be no ground of certainty, that he might not act in the weakest, most unrighteous, and worst manner, of any being in the universe. Let this notion of freedom, as essential to moral agency be true; that it must imply a power to will and do this way or the other, contrary to one's own mind, as well as according to it; and there is an end, not only of all possible confirmation of creatures, but of all immutability in the Supreme Being, further than free agency is overthrown. God is free, because he ever does what seemeth him good: not because it might seem good to him to do the reverse of what he does, in all instances, or in any instance. So likewise men are free, whenever they act their own choice or whenever they choose to act according to their own disposition. This they may do, and yet be kept from ruining themselves, by having a good disposition given them, and kept alive in them; and by being habitually influenced to love the
ways of holiness, and to hate every evil and false way. But,
2. It is still objected, that for men to be so kept as to render it impossible they should fail of eternal life, is inconsistent with their being in a state of probation for what probation can there be of those who are so upheld that they cannot fall-so justified that they can never come into condemnation ?
I answer to be able to judge whether there be any weight in this, what is meant by a state of probation must be understood. I understand by it, a state of trial, in order to a righteous retribution. Now, if men may be kept unto salvation, and yet be free agents, why may they not be so kept, consistently with all the ends of a proper state of probation? In order to a fair trial of men, it is only necassary that they should be able to act themselves, and to discover what is in their hearts. It is not needful by any means, that there should be no divine influence to incline them to good, or to keep them so inclined. Nor is it requisite that they should have a power of will, to give themselves a contrary inclination. It may be known what they are, without their being able to make themselves otherwise. That God is good, he discovers by doing good; notwithstanding his goodness is necessary and unalterable and in like manner, men may discover the goodness of their dispositions, though they cannot will, or wish, to have opposite dispositions. That they have faith, may be manifest by their works, though both the beginning and continuance of their faith be from God, and not of themselves. Creatures need not be independent of their Creator, in order to its being known what they are, or what they deserve. They may be made upright, and kept upright, by divine power; and yet their uprightness be as real, as discoverable, and as justly rewardable, as if it had been self-created, and self-kept.
Such a self-determining power of will as some contend for, is so far from being necessary to discover what is in a man's heart, that it would render a discovery of it altogether impossible. Had God a power of willing and acting contrary to his perfections; what his perfections are, could never be at all known from his works. And had men the power of producing volitions in themselves, and of conducting contrary to their dispositions, what their dispositions are, could not be at all ascertained by their actions. Our Saviour says, Our Saviour says, "By their fruits ye shall know them." And he gives the reason—the only possible reason: "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit; neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit." If a good man, out of the good treas ure of his heart, might bring forth evil things; and an evil man, out of the evil treasure, might bring forth good things; how could one ever be known from the other, by their fruits? The design of a state of probation is to discover what is in men's hearts: but had men such a self-determining power of will, that the sinner might act like a saint, and the saint like a sinner, in spite of their hearts, how could this end ever be obtained by any probation! Were men made to act contrary to their own hearts, by divine power, the end of a state of probation would indeed be frustrated. But this is not the way that God keeps good men. He works in them to will, agreeably to the new heart which he has given them. The doctrine of the saints' perseverance, is therefore no way inconsistent either with their free agency, or with their being proper subjects of a state of probation.
Yet, after all the bad tendency of this doctrine, is alleged against it, as a serious and weighty objection. We are told, the natural and necessary tendency of it is, to encourage those who think themselves saints, in carelessness and sin for what occasion have persons to give themselves any con
eern about what they believe, or how they live, when there is no possibility of their being lost, or failing of eternal life?
To which we answer: A misunderstanding of the doctrine of the saints' perseverance, has a tendency to encourage self-deceived hypocrites in inattention and licentiousness, and may often have this effect; but not the doctrine itself, rightly understood. Did we teach that true believers may become unbelievers, or that those who have been born of God may live in sin, like the world that lieth in wickedness, and yet, that they will infallibly be saved, the objection would be just. But it is not so, when our doctrine is, that all real saints are kept unto salvation, " through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth." What encouragement can this give, to cast off fear, to neglect prayer, to be inattentive to the word, or to live in allowed transgression and disobedience? The grace of God which bringeth salvation, effectually keeps true believers from all these. Those, therefore, who are not thus kept, have no part nor lot in the comfort of this doctrine; for they have abundant reason to conclude, that they were never in a state of grace.
It only remains that we apply the subject, in two or three serious practical inferences.
1. Hence we should hold fast, and contend earnestly for, this doctrine.
It appears very evidently, I apprehend, that the infallible safety of all true believers in Christ, is a plain article of the faith once delivered to the saints; and that the most specious objections against it have no solid foundation, in scripture or reason and we may easily see that it is a very important doctrine. In regard to the comfort and edification of saints, it is certainly of great importance. Without it, the heirs of promise could not have that strong consolation which God is willing to give them. They could Z z
have no anchor of their soul sure and steadfast. It is exceedingly necessary, likewise, to inspire them with courage in all the arduous conflicts of their spiritual warfare, and to fortify them with patience in running the race set before them. And it is also of great importance in regard to the conversion of sinners; as hereby the ministers of the gospel are furnished with a most powerful motive for winning souls. To induce the unconverted to make it their immediate concern to be reconciled to God, if this doctrine be believed, they may be told, that by so doing they will choose the good part, which shall not be taken from them. But, on the contrary, if the doctrine of falling from grace were true, this inducement to flee for refuge and lay hold upon the hope sct before us, would be taken away. Saints would then be no more in a safe condition, than unconverted sinners. Both have conditional promises of salvation, and neither, on that supposition, would have any other. The former are assured that they shall be saved, on condition they endure unto the end; the latter, if at the 'end, they repent and believe the gospel. Feeble would be the argument to persuade men to seek an interest in Christ, that they may get into a state of grace, if in that state, we must tell them, there would be no safety. They might think it nearly or quite as prudent, to put off the matter until the closing scene; when there will not be time for their repentance to be repented of.
Thus important is this doctrine of the infallible salvation of true believers. Thus pernicious is the denial of it, in regard both to the edification of saints, and the conversion of sinners. Those by whom it is denied, with the other capital doctrines of grace, ought surely not to be followed, or any way encouraged; whatever they may say of their own goodness, however indefatigable they may be in making proselytes, or whatever high professions they may make of an ardent concern for the salvation of souls. In